More departures are likely on the way. The 2020 Vision Report said: “We have informally learned of entire classes’ intention to exit the denomination in the near future.” These departures have been a long time coming; the RCA has been debating sexuality and LGBTQ inclusion since the 1970s.
“People on different sides of the spectrum have been fighting for about 40 years, and they’re sick of it,” said Komline. “They believe their fighting is impeding their mission. I think that’s the case on both sides. The liberals want to go pursue justice, as they define it, and the evangelicals want to share the gospel as they define that.”
According to Griswold, these divisions can be traced back even further. The RCA was originally formed by several waves of Dutch immigrants. Those in the earlier waves settled along the East Coast, where they eventually developed sensibilities that resembled those of their mainline peers, while migrants who came in the 19 century often settled further west. Today, the cultural and theological divides are still evident. All except five of the 44 churches listed as LGBTQ-affirming by Room for All — an LGBTQ-affirming network in the RCA — are in the Northeast.
“As America as a whole has shifted, the RCA has experienced some similar shifts,” said Komline. “Just as America now is very polarized, so is the RCA.”
This story has been updated to show that the RCA is one of the oldest denominations in North America. A previous version said it was the oldest denomination.
This article originally appeared here.